The term thought Leadership was first used in 1994 by Joel Kurtzman, former editor-in-chief of Strategy & Business. Its purpose back then was to identify prospective interview subjects whose business ideas warranted media coverage. Since then, companies and their creative services agencies have used the term as a way to develop a competitive edge, position a company as an industry frontrunner, sell products and services and reinforce a business’ brand. While these goals are noteworthy, they do not address the skill sets or the process involved in becoming and remaining a thought leader. In my opinion a thought leader is:
Visionary—someone who thinks beyond today and looks at what’s possible in the future; someone who considers “blue sky” strategy, is innovative, insightful and imaginative.
Change Agent—an individual who facilitates meaningful transformation; someone who defines a goal, puts together a plan, collaborates with others and oversees implementation.
Lifelong Learner—a person who continues the education process long after formal schooling has been completed; someone who participates in self-education by reading, attending workshops and conferences, writing, asking questions and listening to responses; someone who is motivated to learn and achieve more throughout their life.
Effective Communicator—an individual who can translate thoughts into meaningful ideas and can use words in an engaging way; it’s not enough for leaders to have something of value to say unless they can tell a story in a way that motivates and/or challenges others to participate in a dialogue, become more engaged at work and boost their performance.
Additionally, thought leaders do not shy away from controversy. They embrace it. They continually evolve, change and clarify their positions, theories and ideas for the betterment of mankind and the global business marketplace. For further information, consider the following resources:
Blue Ocean Strategy by W. Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne
Thought Leadership: Moving Hearts and Minds by Robin Ryde
Thought Leadership: Prompting Businesses to Think and Learn by Laurie Young
Thought Leadership Meets Business: How Business Schools Can Become More Successful by Peter Lorange